For years, whenever there was a rough patch along the way, Giants fans could always look back and say, with confidence and certainty: “Well, at least this isn’t as bad as it used to be. At least it’s not as bad as the ’60s and the ’70s.”
For the truest believers, that is shorthand for “1964-80.” Those 17 years haunted Giants fans, 17 straight seasons in which the team failed to make the playoffs, and when its operation became a dyspeptic, dysfunctional calamity.
“Living through those years, only one word comes to mind,” John Mara told me a few years ago. “Hell.”
Mara was a kid then, growing up in Westchester County, going off to school at BC, and autumn after autumn was the same thing: some hopeful offseason maneuvering, some optimistic draft picks, maybe a new coach to inject enthusiasm. And by December, 17 awful years in a row, the Giants would be making offseason plans that didn’t include a stop, even a brief one, in the postseason.
“Fans still have the scars,” said Mara, now the team’s co-owner. “I know I do.”
It has been John Mara’s special brand of personal torture that he has lately helped oversee precisely the kind of perilous path that filled so many of his own nightmares as a young Giants fan whose own father happened to own the team.
It has been that bad. The Giants, since 2012, are only a decade into the darkness — and there was an outlier of an 11-5 season in 2016, a year that more and more feels like a figment of someone’s imagination — but at least during that 17-year drought in the 1960s and 1970s there were regular seasonal spasms of hope. There were a couple of 7-7s. There was a 9-5 and an 8-6. Those all might’ve been mirages, quickly replaced by slapstick. But it was something.
These past 10 years … well, they’ve been something, all right, but not anywhere near the same connotation. There has been a three-win seasons, two four-year seasons, a five-win season and two six-win seasons. There has only been one season in which the last game of the year had any relevance, and that was 2020, when the NFC East was so hilariously and historically awful that the Giants’ 6-10 record allowed them an actual shot at the playoffs.
As tellingly, there have been four coaches during this 10-year reign of badness (five if you include Steve Spaguolo’s four-game cameo in relief of Ben McAdoo in 2017).
“We need to do better,” Mara said last winter.
That was when he officially tore up the blueprint and started over, hiring Joe Schoen out of the Bills’ front office to be the new general manager, then watching Schoen hire Brian Daboll off the Buffalo coaching staff to be the head coach. Both men have done well in their first months on the job, lending a clear understanding to what needs to be done here. Schoen had a fine first draft. Daboll seems an instant infusion of life and energy.
So far, so good.
Now comes the hard part. Now comes the part at which folks genuinely start to keep score. Look, at the beginning of Joe Judge’s tenure as head coach, it was impossible to find anyone — player, suit, observer — who wasn’t convinced that his outside-the-box methods weren’t colored in genius. Less than a year-and-a-half later, he was a full-blown laughingstock whose firing was seen as almost a mercy killing.
And the Schoen/Daboll era has an extra impediment in that it will be virtually impossible — and certainly unfair — to use the most obvious measuring stick — wins and losses — to judge their initial progress. The Giants are going to be awful again this year, of that there seems little doubt, even if a weak division might lend a few helpful wins.
But what we will be looking for is more subtle than wins and losses. We need to see genuine progress. We need to see professionalism, of which there has been shockingly little in recent years. We need to see, once and for all, what Daniel Jones is, if he’s a quarterback around whom you build a future or a placeholder for whoever that may be.
Even that awful 17-year trudge through the NFL desert met an end once Wellington and Tim Mara agreed to hire George Young. But remember: It even took Young a couple of coaching hires to get that right, and four years to build a legitimate contender. There are no instant fixes, not in the NFL. It does seem, however, that the Giants are back on the right track.
Now it’s time to learn for sure. Starting now.